So, will Cataclysm mark the beginning of the end of Blizzard’s great warhorse?
Three months into the new expansion, are many players who have happily subscribed for years to WoW turning in their cards? Or even just players who subbed for a few months? Is it just the bitter veterans who are talking about bowing out, unable to cope with a game that has changed so that it can capture a new audience? Or is it just that a proportion of players will ALWAYS leave a few months into an expansion – not everyone is interested in signing up for the long haul of content patch to content patch.
We don’t have answers to those questions yet, except that it is really normal for lots of people to play a new expansion for a few months and then leave, uninterested in endgame. But there are some genuine reasons in Cataclysm why veteran players might be feeling the burn.
1. It’s not Cataclysm, it’s all the previous long delays between patches catching up with the playerbase.
In a MMO like WoW, there are plenty of activities on which players can spend their time. Even if you’re not interested in instances or PvP, there are mounts and pets to collect, alts to level, achievements to aim for, economic sides of the game to master … With three expansions under its belt, WoW offers a lot of content.
But if you were playing the game during those expansions, chances are you’ve already done all of that expansion’s content that you were interested in while you were waiting for the next content patch. For example, I happily ground out my Skyguard rep via daily quests for a nether ray flying mount during TBC – I enjoyed it at the time, dailies were shiny and new and so was flying. I cannot think of any reason why I’d ever want to do it again.
As another example, lots of people levelled alts during Wrath. Heirlooms were available for the first time, and there was a long delay between ICC and Cataclysm. So there’s a good chance that for many of those players, they already have level 80s of whichever classes they were interested in. So when Cataclysm rolls along and there is a bit of a gap between patches, that’s a time-filler they have no reason to do again. Yes, you could relearn to play those alts with the new talent trees and I’m sure that a lot of players are doing exactly that, but the 80-85 trip is fairly linear and fairly speedy if you have rested bonuses and guild perks to help it along.
And especially since many people are not really enjoying heroics, gearing an alt up through random heroics might not be as fun as it once was. (This is an issue with grinding heroics as a standard mechanic incidentally, even people who enjoy the challenge on their mains might not be as interested on alts that are intended for chilling out.)
What I’m saying is that for any individual player, there’s a certain amount of time filling activities in game that ever have the possibility to interest you. Once you are done with those, if nothing else has replaced them then you’ll either have to dial down the amount of time you spend in the game, get horribly bored by hanging around with nothing much to do, or leave and find a replacement. Blizzard has not really been replacing the long grinds which we now tend to associate with the earlier expansions. And even if they did, there would be an outcry from different sections of the playerbase which aren’t interested in grinds that might take months to complete. (Note: veteran players, already committed to the game, probably ARE interested in long term goals like this.) I think archaeology was Blizzard’s attempt to fill this hole. I’m not sure how successful it’s being.
2. Raiding ain’t what it used to be
My greatest disappointment in Cataclysm so far, bar none, has been zoning into Throne of the Four Winds. This is a smallish raid zone, located in the plane of elemental air, similarly to Vortex Pinnacle. Why the disappointment? See, I thought Vortex Pinnacle was gorgeous. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful 5 man instance, all airy, with arabian nights/ egyptian /djinni themes in the architecture. You can hop from one part to another by riding on whirlwinds. It’s just a lovely zone. And in the back of my mind while I was playing there I was thinking, “And if you think this is good, just imagine what the raid zone is going to be like!”
The raid zone is five platforms with djinn on them. That’s it.
To explain why this was a shock, you have to understand that raid instances in WoW have usually been just a bit more special than anything else in the game (yes, with the exception of Trial of the Crusader). AQ40, Serpentshrine, Black Temple, Ulduar, ICC, even Naxxramas. When you zoned into one of those instance you KNEW you were somewhere special. Throne of the Four Winds looks like Vortex Pinnacle but less cool. Bastion of Twilight is a cave. Blackwing Descent, to be fair, looks like the rest of Blackwing Caverns and does have a killer lift, making it my favourite of the raid zones so far this expansion.
I don’t have an issue with the encounters themselves which have so far been a good mix of intricate and tank’n’spank. (Well I do have issues with how melee is balanced with ranged but balance isn’t specific to this expansion.) I also have seen lots of feedback that Blizzard have generally done a good job with balancing out the difficulty of 10 vs 25 man raiding, which is a great achievement for them really.
But I feel there used to be something more special about raiding, and it wasn’t down to the percentage of the player base who was involved, or the difference in scale between 40 vs 25 vs 10 man raids, because raids felt more special in Wrath too. And plenty of people were raiding Wrath in 10 man groups and/ or PUG raids.
That, I suspect, is going to affect how people feel about the endgame at the moment and whether it’s worth hanging in there. It is also something that Blizzard could turn around instantly with the next content patch if they come up with something like Ulduar. (Possibly even very like Ulduar, if Uldum is the next raid due up.)
If that happens, raiders may resub. It will after all still be possible to gear for raids via heroics at that point because the emblem gear will be upgraded.
3. Shorter term goals lead to shorter term players
I have identified before that I think Blizzard is deprecating long term achievements in WoW, which is (ironically) a long term trend for them. Emblem gear gets updated with every content patch. Gold and the economy is less important than it has ever been.
Players are being encouraged by this to feel that if they aren’t enjoying the game, the thing to do is unsub and see if it looks any better next patch – which might be in 6 months time. realID even means that you can easily keep up with your friends when you do get back, check who their current alts are, which servers they are on, and see if they’re interested in raiding again.
From being a game where people keep long term subs, I wonder if WoW is deliberately becoming one where a wave of endgame players will resub when the new stuff gets patched in, confident that they’ll be able to quickly catch up and join in. Other players, either enjoying the current tier of raiding more, not yet having run out of long term goals, or playing less frequently, will keep their subs up during the quiet times.
What do you think? If you are thinking of quitting, would you consider resubbing in 6 months time if they put in a cool content patch?